Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the German bishops' conference president and recently retired archbishop of Freiburg, speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Pope Francis in Rome in October 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put
asunder” (Mt 19.6), presumably he meant it. Certainly the Catholic
Church believes he did, and that conviction is the basis for its solemn
teaching that sacramental marriages are indissoluble.
there such a thing as “Catholic divorce”annulment, that is? Evidently
not, since annulmenta declaration of nullity by a church courtisn’t
the dissolution of a marriage but a judgment that in a particular case
no sacramental marriage existed. (One common reason is that one or both
parties didn’t truly intend to enter into a sacramental marriage as the
Church understands it.)
There are of course many variations on the
theme of the divorced Catholic without an annulment who marries again.
Some of these people were the responsible parties in the breakup of
their first marriages and aren’t troubled about violating the Church’s
But others were the injured parties. It’s natural to
feel sympathy for those in this second category, who, having entered
into a new union without an annulment, find themselves in a state of
estrangement from the Church that includes being cut off from receiving
communion (unless they separate from their second partners or forgo
Now a well-intentioned, but not necessarily
wise, proposal by some German bishops for handling this pastoral problem
is causing serious concern among those who fear further erosion of the
indissolubility of marriage as a likely result.
At the plenary
assembly of their episcopal conference next month, the bishops of
Germany will consider a set of guidelines allowing divorced and
remarried Catholics to be readmitted to the sacraments in “justified
individual cases.” The guidelines are expected to pass. Already one
German diocese, the Archdiocese of Freiburg, has drafted, and apparently
adopted, guidelines of its own.
This is hardly a bolt from the
blue. Prominent figures in the German hierarchy have been arguing for
something like this at least since 1993. Up to now the response from
Rome has been no.
Indeed, as early as 1981, in an apostolic
exhortation on marriage and the family, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the
Church’s practicewhich, he noted, is “based on Sacred Scripture”of
not giving communion to the divorced and remarried. John Paul cited the
potential for “error and confusion regarding…indissolubility” as a
secondary reason for this stand.
The argument was repeated last October in the pages of L’Osservatore Romano,
the Vatican newspaper, by Cardinal-designate Gerhard Mueller, the
German prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Publication of the article, he noted, was approved by Pope Francis.
Robert Zollitsch, apostolic administrator of Freiburg and president of
the German bishops’ conference, brushed off the CDF prefect’s remarks.
The Germans, it appears, are determined to proceed, no matter what.
haste seems strange considering that an extraordinary assembly of the
world Synod of Bishops next October and an ordinary Synod assembly a
year later--both of them convened by the Pope--will focus on marriage
and family. The pastoral problem of the divorced and remarried is
certain to come up for discussion in this eminently collegial context.
only thatfor two days before the February 22 consistory at which Pope
Francis will elevate 19 men to cardinal, the College of Cardinals will
meet and discuss the subject of marriage. That would be a good time for
someone to point out that although some adjustments in the annulment
process are no doubt possible, it’s crucial to avoid the undermining of